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Daily News Archive
From July 20, 2001

New NIH Study Finds Link Betweeen Use of DDT and Premature Births in the 1960s

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) a new study shows that heavy use of DDT in the United States before 1966 may have produced a previously undetected epidemic of premature births. Click here for full press release. The study appears in the current issue of the international medical journal "Lancet." Click here to visit the Lancet, you can register for free and access a copy of the study.

The scientists said they found elevated levels of DDT's breakdown product, DDE, in the stored blood of mothers recorded as giving birth to premature or low birth weight infants. Pre-term births are a major contributor to infant mortality. "DDT levels in the U.S. are now low and likely not causing any harm," said Matthew Longnecker, M.D., Sc.D., NIEHS, lead author on the study. "But we have to be concerned about what might be happening in those 25 countries where DDT is still used. Also, looking back on earlier decades in the U.S., we may have had an epidemic of pre-term births that we are just now discovering."

DDT has long been suspected of reproductive toxicity. Rachel Carson identified the chemical as being a potent reproductive toxin in birds in her seminal book "Silent Spring" published in 1962. The book forecast a time when DDT and other persistent pesticides could produce a spring where there were no birds left to sing. In fact, bald eagle and the brown pelican were nearly driven to extinction before the banning of DDT in the U.S. in 1972 brought their numbers back.
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